Hugh Le Caine | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Hugh Le Caine

Le Caine, Hugh. Physicist, composer, b Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ont, 27 May 1914, d Ottawa 3 Jul 1977; M SC (Queen's) 1939, PH D (Birmingham) 1952, honorary D MUS (McGill) 1971, honorary LLD (Toronto) 1973, honorary D MUS (Queen's) 1974.

Le Caine, Hugh

Le Caine, Hugh. Physicist, composer, b Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ont, 27 May 1914, d Ottawa 3 Jul 1977; M SC (Queen's) 1939, PH D (Birmingham) 1952, honorary D MUS (McGill) 1971, honorary LLD (Toronto) 1973, honorary D MUS (Queen's) 1974. Throughout his youth he studied music, particularly piano, and dreamed of applying scientific techniques to the invention of musical instruments. He studied physics through the Faculty of Applied Science at Queen's University, and did graduate work in atomic physics, contributing significant technical improvements to measuring devices in this field. After graduation in 1939 he was awarded a National Research Council fellowship to continue research at Queen's, and worked 1940-74 with the NRC in Ottawa. During World War II he assisted in the development of radar technology. On an NRC grant he studied nuclear physics 1948-52 in England.

As early as 1937 Le Caine had designed an electronic free reed organ, and in 1945 he began to develop electronic instruments at his home studio in his spare time. His Electronic Sackbut, built at this time, is now recognized to have been the first synthesizer. It featured continuous controls for timbre and a keyboard that was sensitive to both vertical and horizontal pressure, affecting volume and pitch respectively. At least 20 years passed before similar instruments were available commercially. Le Caine was also developing a polyphonic touch sensitive organ and a device to play several tape recordings simultaneously. In 1954 he was permitted to develop these instruments through facilities at NRC. One of his first projects there was the development of the Multi-track (Special Purpose) Tape Recorder, capable of altering the playback speed of several recordings simultaneously, through a keyboard. In 1955 he composed his landmark piece Dripsody for this instrument, using only the sound of the fall of a single drop of water. Several different instruments followed, using varying techniques for generating and controlling sound. He co-operated in the installation of Canada's first electronic music studio (1959, University of Toronto) and another (1964) at McGill University and in 1966 gave the first of many seminars on his subject at these universities. In 1961 he developed equipment for the studio at Hebrew U, Jerusalem.

Le Caine's works represent a duality of art and science: they extend the aesthetic field of electronic music while serving as clear demonstrations of the instruments he invented.

The Harrison-Le Caine Hall at Queen's University was named (1974) in his honour. In 1978 members of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble organized the Hugh Le Caine Project to assemble and disseminate information on Le Caine and to publish a newsletter, which began to appear in June 1979. The ensemble included at least one work by Le Caine in every concert in the 1978-9 season, in Canada, the northern USA, and Europe. On 3 Jun 1979 the CBC broadcast a radio program featuring music by Le Caine, music dedicated to him, and music written for his instruments. Lectures demonstrating Le Caine's contribution to music have been sponsored by scientific and musical organizations around the world. His papers and original recordings are at the Music Division of the National Library of Canada.

Le Caine's wife, Trudi, stepdaughter of Arnold Walter, has been a vocal advocate of musical causes in and beyond Ottawa and was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1991.

See also Electroacoustic music.

Selected Compositions

The 1948 Sackbut. 1953. Sackbut, piano, prototype touch sensitive organ, multitrack recorder

The Touch Sensitive Organ. 1955. Touch sensitive organ

Dripsody. 1955. Special purpose tape recorder. Folk FMS-33436/4-ACM 37 (CD)

Ninety-nine Generators. Touch sensitive organ, pitch changer

This Thing Called Key. 1956. Special purpose tape recorder

Arcane Presents Lulu. 1956. Special purpose tape recorder

Invocation. 1957. Special purpose tape recorder

Study No. 1 for Player Piano and Tape. 1957. Player piano, special purpose tape recorder

The Burning Deck. 1958. Player piano, special purpose tape recorder, voice

A Noisome Pestilence. 1959. Special purpose tape recorder

Textures. 1959. Trb, special purpose tape recorder

Nocturne. 1962. Conductive keys, tape delay system

Music for Expo. 1967. Serial sound structure generator

Mobile. 1970. NRC computer music system. RCI 373/4-ACM 37 (CD)

Paulution. 1972. Polyphonic synthesizer

All of the compositions listed above are included on the album Hugh Le Caine, Compositions and Demonstrations 1948-1972 (JWD 02/RCI 622)


'Electronic music,' Physics in Canada, vol 10, Winter 1954

'Touch-sensitive organ based on an electrostatic coupling device,' J of the Acoustical Soc of America, vol 27, Jul 1955

'Electronic music,' Proceedings of the IRE, vol 44, no. 22, 1956

'A touch-sensitive keyboard for the organ,' CMJ, Spring 1959

Revised Specifications for a Tape Recorder for Use in Electronic Music Studios Developed by the National Research Council of Canada. Government of Canada report ERB-581 (May 1961)

'A tape recorder for use in electronic music studios and related equipment,' J of Music Theory, vol 7, Spring 1963

'Electronic music,' New Scientist, 16 Dec 1965

'Some applications of electrical level controls,' Electronic Music Review, 4, Oct 1967

- and Ciamaga, Gustav. 'A preliminary report on the serial sound structure generator,' Perspectives of New Music, vol 6, Fall-Winter 1967

'Apparatus for generating serial sound structures,' J of the Audio Engineering Soc, vol 17, Jun 1969

- and Ciamaga, Gustav. '''The Sonde'' a new approach to multiple sine wave generation,' J of the Audio Engineering Soc, vol 18, no. 5 1970

Further Reading